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Solar eclipse to sweep across Americas, Europe, Africa

Posted: 1 November 2013

You can experience a rare partial solar eclipse in the eastern United States and southern Europe this Sunday, and the eclipse is spectacularly total in Africa.

About 50 percent of the Sun will be obscured by the Moon in the partial eclipse visible at sunrise in the eastern United States. Credit: Astronomy Now graphic by Greg Smye-Rumsby
This Sunday morning, 3 November, there is a rare chance for people living or visiting the eastern seaboard of the United States to witness a partial eclipse of the Sun at sunrise. Parts of southern Europe, including Spain, southern Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey will be able to see the partial phases.

The whole of Africa is favoured too, excepting the far southern reaches of South Africa (including Cape Town), along with northern South America. This eclipse will also be total along a narrow track across Africa, two hours after the partial event in America as the Moon's shadow sweeps east.

Partial eclipse in America

For observers in the eastern United States, the circumstances are not ideal but at least something of the eclipse can be seen given clear skies, and it will be well worth rising early to view it. Your observing site looking at the east-northeast horizon will need to be completely free of natural or man-made obstructions, including even distant buildings, hills or mountains.

A partial solar eclipse imaged by Peter Paice.
The Sun rises already partially eclipsed, almost at the point of the maximum extent of the eclipse. From Boston, Massachusetts local sunrise is at 6.20am Eastern Standard Time (EST). Something to bear in mind is that daylight savings time ended at earlier at 2am earlier the same morning. Just over 60 percent of the Sun will be covered by the Moon at maximum eclipse (this percentage is called the eclipse magnitude and is defined as the fraction of the Sun's diameter obscured by the Moon at greatest eclipse), but at this time the Sun will still be below the horizon and around 50 percent will still be covered at sunrise. The eclipse will be all over 45 minutes or so later with the Sun having climbed to eight degrees above the horizon (azimuth 108 to 119 degrees). Sunrise in New York is 10 minutes later than Boston at 6.30am EST, and the circumstances are roughly the same. From Washington and Miami, 47 percent of the Sun is eclipsed.

Eclipse safety

When viewing any solar eclipse, safety is of paramount importance whether you are viewing with or without optical aid. Never look directly at the Sun at anytime with the naked-eye, and any binoculars, telescopes and cameras must be fitted with reputable and appropriate filters placed in front of the main optics. Sunglasses are totally unsuitable!

If the unfiltered Sun enters your field of view by mistake, then the magnified heat and light could do irreparable damage to your eyes. By far the safest method to view any eclipse is by projection; any telescope or pair of binoculars can be used, with the solar disk being projected onto a piece of white card or paper. Even simpler is to use a pinhole; make a 3mm or so hole into a sheet of card or paper and use this to project the solar image onto another similar piece, which then can be viewed directly and safely.

Viewing from Europe

In Europe, the Sun is well up by the time the partial eclipse starts, but the eclipse magnitude is less than in America. The whole of Spain can see the eclipse with a bigger bite being taken out of the Sun the further south you are. From Malaga, the eclipse starts at 12.47pm Central European Time (CET) with the Sun over 35 degrees up, with maximum eclipse occurring at 1.36pm when 14 percent of the Sun is obscured. The eclipse ends at 2.24pm CET.

The Moon will take a small bite out of the Sun from southern Spain at greatest eclipse. Credit: Astronomy Now graphic by Greg Smye-Rumsby
Moving east, the observing circumstances are not as favourable; from Athens, Greece, the eclipse starts at 3.08pm Eastern European Time (EET) and by the time of greatest eclipse at 3.37pm, with a only a small bite (magnitude 7%) missing from the Sun, it has sunk to around 18 degrees above the west-south-west horizon (azimuth 232 degrees).

Partial and total eclipse in Africa

Almost the whole of Africa will see a partial solar eclipse and there is a total eclipse to enjoy, too. This is a very rare hybrid or annular/total solar eclipse, the only one of the decade. The very beginning of the total eclipse see the Moon's shadow touch down in the North Atlantic 1000km from Jacksonville, Florida. At the central line, there is a four-second annular eclipse visible; it's not total at this point due to the curvature of Earth's surface not bringing the Moon's umbral into contact with the Earth, rather the antumbral shadow.

Within 15 seconds of the shadow touching down the eclipse becomes total for the rest of the central track, with the Moon's umbral shadow in contact with the Earth's surface all the way. Greatest eclipse is in the Atlantic 330 kilometres southwest of Liberia, Africa at 12.47 UT, with one minute and 39 seconds of totality. The shadow's track reaches landfall in Gabon, central Africa at 13.51 UT (2.51pm local time), where totality lasts about a minute. Totality decreases as the shadow sweeps eastwards through Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (35 seconds to 18 seconds), Uganda and Kenya, southern Ethiopia and finally Somalia.

The spectacular 'Diamond Ring' at third contact of a total solar eclipse. This sight can be enjoyed across central Africa under the total eclipse centre line on 3 November. Michael Maunder took this image at last year's total eclipse in Australia.
North and south of the central line there is a diminishing partial eclipse. North of the line in Marrakech, Morocco, the eclipse magnitude is 27 percent, with greatest eclipse occurring at 12.29 UT (12.29pm local time). Way south in Johannesburg, the eclipse magnitude is only 13 percent at 14.16 UT (4.16pm local time).

See a marvellous interactive map of the extent and circumstances of the eclipse around the world.

Go to NASA's eclipse website for all you need to know on eclipses.

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